The fourth industrial revolution, posthumanism and the new man in Christ

The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence raises major moral challenges. Among these is the expectation that machines will develop higher capacities than humans. According to influential philosophers, a posthumanist era has begun (Wolfe 2009; Braidotti 2012). Some anticipate the end of humanity but others, so-called transhumanist posthumanists, expect a boundary-blurring co-evolution between humans and technology. Among them are theologians. According to them, the so-called fourth industrial revolution – in particular AI – should take humans to a higher level (Bostrom 2003; Putnam 2011).
Transhumanism implies penetrating questions for Christian ethics. Did God not assign to human beings a well-defined created nature to which they must remain faithful? Isn’t a connection between man and technology, which enhances mental and physical capacities, unnatural? When do we transgress God-ordained boundaries? Such ethical questions provoke renewed reflection on Christian anthropology (Garner 2006; Cortez 2010; Boeve, De Maeseneer, Van Stichel 2014). This paper contributes to that.
(1) It first analyzes the posthumanist challenge by surveying both technological developments and prominent posthumanist theories, often connecting technological with ecological and gender-queer reflection (Haraway 1985.1991.1997; Latour 2005; Verbeek 2011; Floridi 2014).
(2) Next, the paper offers a typology of theological responses to the posthumanist challenge to Christian anthropology. These range from defensive-concerned (Brock 2010; Waters 2006; Bonhoeffer 1954; see also Heidegger 1954; Ellul 1964; Fukuyama 2003), through normatively-ordered (Waters 2014; Herzfeld 2002. 2009) and progressive-accepting (Hefner 1993) to radical-destabilizing (Peters 2015; Bostrom 2012; Scott 2010; Thweatt-Bates 2012; Midson 2018).
(3) Following that, it concentrates on the recent proposal of Midson (Manchester) to broaden theological “anthropology” to “cyborgology”. Thus, he develops a relational, hybrid and fluid concept of “imago Dei”. The traditional vision of man’s special position in the Garden of Eden, he claims, has caused a deadlock between technophilia and technophobia among Christians. Midson also denies a “fall” caused by the serpent. He interprets the serpent as “cyborg”, challenging clean distinctions between humans and other creatures.
(4) The paper then elaborates selected theological notions from the aforementioned positions to sketch a theological-anthropological answer to recent technological challenges.
a. The first notion concerns the meaning of “imago Dei” and the question whether that theme suffices for a biblical response to the posthumanist challenge.
b. The second notion asks whether man’s eschatological transformation into “the new man” could justify receptivity to profound technological transformations of humanity.
c. The third notion regards the concept of “naturalness” and considers whether man’s createdness from “dust of the earth” justifies an intertwining of man and matter – and thus human interrelatedness with technology.
(5) Finally, the paper suggests a Christocentric perspective to fruitfully address ethical challenges concerning recent technologies. Remarkably, Christ – though being Creator, new man and sum of all reality (Colossians 1) – appears to be absent from much recent theological reflection in this field. This Christocentric perspective is substantiated from Hebrews 2 and Bonhoeffer’s ethics as well as applied to some ethical challenges.

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